Researchers call for hospitals to establish bereavement programs for families of deceased patients

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Backed by a growing body of research, investigators at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are calling for all hospitals to establish bereavement programs for families of deceased patients.

In a paper in the November issue of the Journal of Palliative Medicine, the researchers say such programs – which guide and support people through the process of mourning a loved one – can help prevent a range of physical and mental health problems that sometimes appear follow the death of a family member. The researchers’ recommendation is based, in part, on the results of a program instituted at Dana-Farber in 2010 for families of adult patients who have died.

“The program consists of a range of services geared to the most commonly expressed needs of bereaved families,” said Dana-Farber’s Sue Morris, PsyD, lead author of the paper. “The basic elements are a condolence letter from the leaders of the cancer center, a booklet that lets people know what to expect during the grieving process, and information about services available at the cancer center and in the community.”

To assess the value of the Dana-Farber program, Morris and senior author Susan Block, MD, senior physician in the department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care at Dana-Farber, surveyed 815 family members of patients who died during a four-month period. Of the 140 people who completed the questionnaire, 69 percent said the condolence letter they’d received had a positive or somewhat positive effect on their grieving. Approximately 72 percent said the bereavement guide – “When Grief Is New,” written by Morris – had a beneficial effect. Of the respondents who reported receiving a note or call from the patient’s oncologist or nurse, more than 90 percent said it helped with their grief.

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